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Thursday, December 15, 2016

Rust's Resurgence Highlights Scoring Depth by@JonRudder

Bryan Rust became a local legend in Pittsburgh this past spring.

His two goals in game seven of the Eastern Conference Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning, propelled the Penguins into the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 2009. 

He also opened the scoring in Game 1 of the Cup final against the Sharks. 

Rust was the microcosm of the secondary scoring that the Penguins so desperately needed in previous years. That void contributed to five years of playoff disappointment. 

But last spring, Rust, along with Conor Sheary and Tom Kuhnhackl provided the spark the Penguins had been looking for. 

The trio also faced speculation during the offseason, questioning if that production could be sustained through the regular season. 

With Rust's first career overtime goal extending the Penguins' winning streak to seven games, it looks as if Brian Rust is regaining that postseason form.

Rust missed the first three games of the season with an injury before returning against Montreal October 18th. He got off to a slow start once he was back in the lineup, failing to record a point through his first six games. By the time the calendar flipped to November, Rust had collected all of two points.

This isn't an indictment against Rust; it was also during this time that the Penguins' scoring depth came into question. 

Chris Kunitz and Nick Bonino each scored one goal in their first 14 games. Tom Kuhnhackl hadn't scored a goal in his first nine. 

As a group, the blue line notched just three goals in 14 games. 

Kuhnhackl was even a healthy scratch at one point this season. Hardly a slight against a young player, but Sullivan has a way with players and using a scratch as tool for teaching.

But fast forward just a month and the Penguins' scoring fortunes have turned drastically.

Rust has nine points in his last ten games, a span that includes his first career hat trick December 5th against the Senators.

Rust isn't the only factor in the scoring equation. Kuhnhackl has began to find himself on the scoring sheet more often. After that slow start and subsequent scratch, he has three points in his last seven games.

Sheary also has nine points in his last eight games after tallying nine points in his first 13 games.

And the scoring from the defense?

“We have a lot of confidence that we’re a deep team,” Rust said after Monday night's 7-0 dismantling of the Coyotes. “It’s starting to show as of late. I think that’s something that we really pride ourselves in.”

So much so that 20 of the Penguins' 39 goals during the current 7-game win streak come from either bottom-six forwards or third-pairing defensemen.

The secondary scoring mixing with stars who are still producing has been a catalyst for this streak, these blowouts and multiple comebacks.

Oh, and has anyone even noticed Eric Fehr has been a health scratch?

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